History - ACA



Founded in 1880 by a group of 24 notable canoeists, the ACA has grown into the nation’s largest and most active nonprofit paddlesports organization with 15,000 members and over 300 Clubs and Affiliate Organizations across the United States and the world.


In 1880, the canoeists who vacationed in the Lake George – Lake Champlain area of New York State recognized the rising tide of interest in canoeing and issued a call for a Convention of Canoeists.  The result was the formation of the American Canoe Association on August 3, 1880  on the shores of Lake George, New York by 24 charter members.  Among its purposes was to promote the sharing of cruising information and to unite fellow canoeists at an annual “meet”.  Nathaniel H. Bishop, a prominent 19th century canoe explorer, was known as the ‘father of the ACA’ and the first Commodore was William L. Alden.

More information about the ACA and the History of American Canoeing between 1879 and 1883 is available here.

The annual Meets or Encampments of the Association were held at various locations in the United States and Canada.  In 1901, the ACA purchased St. Lawrence Island (now known as Sugar Island) on the border of the U.S. and Canada and held its first Meet there in 1903.  Great competition was the major attraction with paddling, sailing, novelty events, races for women and children, and canoe tilting.  For decades, Sugar Island was the headquarters of the ACA.

Throughout the early 20th century, the ACA evolved from a loosely knit group to an incorporated entity whose influence began to reach across the country as well as internationally. From the 1940s through the early 1990s, the ACA placed significant resources into all aspects of paddlesports competition, from local and national races to winning two World Championships to being the National Governing Body (NGB) for paddlesports for the U.S. Olympic Committee. With strong ties to the American Red Cross, the YMCA, and the Boy Scouts of America, the instruction program was formalized in 1973 with the advent of the ACA Canoe Instruction Certification Committee. Over the past 40 years this committee has also been known as the Training Committee, the National Instruction Committee and currently, the Safety Education & Instruction Council.

Dedicated to Promoting Canoeing, Kayaking, SUP, Rafting, and Safety & Rescue

Publications of the organization began in the 1880’s and ranged from Forest and Stream and The American Canoeist, to Canoe, Paddler, Paddle Dealer and currently Paddle eMagazine. We are also proud of our partner publications from Rapid Media.

Today the ACA is dedicated to promoting canoeing, kayaking, SUP, rafting, and safety & rescue as wholesome lifetime recreational activities. We accomplish our mission by providing a variety of programs and public services in such areas as: event sponsorship, safety education, instructor certification, waterway stewardship, water trails, paddler’s rights and protection, and public information campaigns. We are affiliated with a wide range of organizations, such as L.L. Bean and the U.S. Coast Guard, which help us to pursue our mission.

The ACA is the nation’s recognized leader in the fields of paddlesport instruction and education. There are more than 6,500 ACA certified canoe, kayak, rafting, safety & rescue, and stand up paddleboard instructors in the United States. Collectively, these instructors teach ACA approved programs to over 800,000 people a year. Internationally, the ACA also has members and instructors in 35 countries.

Today and Beyond

From concerns about exploring and protecting America’s waterways in the 19th century, to Clean Water Act enforcement in the 1990’s, the stewardship and public policy program has always been a vital component of the association. Currently the ACA plays a prominent role in supporting federal and local funding for access and recreation opportunities and has launched a national program for Water Trails. We also provide grassroots support to clubs and organizations across the country.

Competition continues to play a vital role for the ACA. From our roots in the 1800’s to the present, the ACA supports, promotes and organizes paddlesports competitions at the local, regional and national levels. Each year, the ACA is involved with over 200 races and hosts several national championships.

Historically and still today, the ACA is the largest national organization of its kind in terms of sanctioning, supporting, and producing paddlesport events. The ACA sanctions nearly 4,300 paddlesport events each year, providing event organizers with comprehensive assistance including insurance/risk management, technical assistance, and event promotion.

For over 140 years, the ACA has been the voice of paddlers across the country. Through the tireless efforts of volunteers, committee members, board members, clubs and staff, the ACA continues to work at the grassroots, regional and national levels to promote fun and responsible canoeing, kayaking, rafting and stand up paddleboarding and advocacy for recreational access and stewardship of America’s waterways.

Additional historical information:

Executive Directors

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Commodores / Presidents

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Bylaw Revision Process

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100th Anniversary

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125th Anniversary

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